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Many Individuals consider migrants convey fentanyl throughout the border. That’s fallacious and harmful

by Susan Benesch and Catherine Buerger

Two unrelated details mixed with a lie kind a robust and harmful piece of misinformation that’s spreading virally.

The details are {that a} drug overdose epidemic is killing greater than 100,000 Individuals a 12 months and that much more migrants are crossing the nation’s southern border than ever earlier than. The lie is that the migrants are bringing fentanyl, the extremely addictive opioid behind most deadly overdoses.

Most illicit fentanyl is certainly made overseas and smuggled over the southern border. However it’s largely transported by U.S. residents, not migrants.

About 90% of the fentanyl seized on the border in recent times was at authorized crossings, which undocumented migrants typically keep away from, and 91% of the seizures had been from U.S. residents, in keeping with Border Patrol information. It’s a lot simpler to move fentanyl tablets or powder in one of many hundreds of autos that cross by authorized ports of entry each day than with the bedraggled individuals strolling, wading and climbing throughout the border.

Former President Donald Trump and different politicians and pundits have however been relentlessly linking migrants with fentanyl on the marketing campaign path, in Congress and on social media. A Trump marketing campaign advert warned of “report numbers streaming throughout our border, costing taxpayers billions, and virtually as many Individuals killed from fentanyl as killed in World Conflict II.” It confirmed photos of crowds strolling alongside a roadside and a Fox Information headline studying, “Border Patrol seized sufficient fentanyl to kill total U.S.”

It is a traditional instance of what we name harmful speech: language that conjures up concern and violence by describing one other group of individuals as an existential risk. And it’s working to horrible impact: Individuals are more and more satisfied that migrants are in charge for the fentanyl disaster. Social media posts blaming migrants for the drug’s toll greater than tripled from December to January, in keeping with our evaluation of greater than 30 websites.

Together with different harmful speech casting migrants as terrorists and invaders, the fentanyl lie is fueling requires states to ship Nationwide Guard troops to the border — even from locations which can be removed from the border, reminiscent of Florida. That’s elevating the danger of violent confrontations with migrants in addition to federal Border Patrol brokers.

It’s particularly arduous to refute this type of misinformation, which attracts not solely on partial truths but in addition on real concern and grief. Concern is a visceral emotion that provokes robust organic responses from the human physique, so most harmful speech invokes a mortal risk of some type.

Concern of illness, for instance, may be as communicable because the microbes that trigger it. Early within the COVID-19 pandemic, concern led individuals to consider harmful disinformation, together with Trump’s suggestion to take the antimalarial drugs chloroquine to guard themselves in opposition to the contagion. One lately revealed examine attributed about 17,000 deaths throughout the US and different nations to using hydroxychloroquine early within the pandemic.

The mixture of fact, lies and concern has proved deadly earlier than. Through the Ebola epidemic of 2018-20, for instance, it was clear that the illness was deadly and that many Congolese individuals distrusted their authorities. When these details had been stitched along with the false rumor that medical employees had been spreading Ebola as a substitute of attempting to stop individuals from dying from it, the employees had been attacked. The misinformation impressed practically 500 acts of violence and not less than 25 deaths.

It’s very important for influential individuals to refute the fentanyl lie, which creates comparable dangers of violence in opposition to a selected group, on this case migrants. Furthermore, such harmful disinformation distracts consideration and sources from efficient responses to a lethal epidemic.

Susan Benesch is the chief director of the Harmful Speech Challenge, the place Catherine Buerger is the director of analysis.